|FC equipment (from the NYTM article)|
And an article from The Sunday New York Times Magazine (October 25, 2015) reinforces that doomsday view. It’s entitled "The Strange Story of Anna Stubblefield". But "strange" doesn't come close to describing this case.
Anna Stubblefield was an associate professor and chair of the philosophy department at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. She is the daughter of parents with PhD’s in special education, the wife of a symphony orchestra tuba player and the mother of two.
As of October 2, she is also a convicted felon. A jury found her guilty of two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault - the same charge that would apply to someone who had inflicted severe injury during a rape or participated in a violent gang rape.
Her victim, named in the report only as DJ, is a man in his thirties who is profoundly physically and cognitively impaired. His mother and legal guardian has testified that the now 34-year-old victim wears diapers and needs help to walk, bathe, get dressed and eat. His brother, a student of Stubblefield's, has testified that DJ does not speak aside from making sounds that could not be interpreted by experts and that he has the cognitive capacities of an 18 month old.
Stubblefield will be sentenced on November 9 and could spend up to 40 years in prison.
So, how did this bizarre case evolve?
Stubblefield had been practicing Facilitated Communication (or FC) with her victim for several years. Initially the relationship was one of researcher and subject. It progressed to one of research partners, friends and, according to Stubblefield, it culminated in one of lovers. Because, she claims, that through FC typing, the victim consented to sex with her as his facilitator.
"DJ was very happy with what was going on," she said in court. If he needed to say something, he would bang the floor, and she would pause to set him up with the keyboard. "It was a few hours from getting undressed to afterglow," she said. When they were finished, he typed "I feel alive for the first time in my life."
FC is a technique purporting to enable disabled people to type on a keyboard with the help of a facilitator who grips the typer's elbow, shoulder or hand – or two of those at once.
Proponents insist that the person with disabilities is typing independently. But in the early nineties, controlled experiments were conducted in which typers were asked to name objects that their facilitators either could or couldn’t see. In almost every case, it was apparent that the messages that the subjects typed were not their own. It was concluded that FC was an elaborate display of the ideomotor effect, in which an external suggestion or a person’s beliefs or expectations trigger unconscious movement: The facilitator was guiding the typing, even if she didn’t know it.
The method was duly discredited by mainstream professionals. In 1994, the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) all passed resolutions cautioning practitioners against the use of FC, citing the lack of scientific evidence. The APA also recommended that information obtained via FC should not be used to confirm or deny allegations of abuse or make diagnostic or treatment decisions. (There had already been many such claims litigated in court).
Testifying in the Stubblefield case, psychology professor James Todd said that
every "methodologically sound" study of facilitated communication has determined it to be an invalid means of communication. "It's become the single most scientifically discredited intervention in all of developmental disabilities," Todd said. ("Professor found guilty of sexually assaulting disabled man", October 2, 2015)The judge in the case refused to allow expert testimony on the method because it is "not a recognized science".
For a fee from each of us, the facilitator "channeled" messages from our non-verbal children. This was the pre-tablet era, so the woman held a 4x5 inch alphabet card. She gripped each girl in turn by the elbow while their hands appeared to flit from letter to letter at lightening speed spelling out elaborate presentations. C. delivered a scathing, verbose diatribe about my losing my moral compass and immersing myself in materialism.
I was utterly blindsided. Of course, I didn’t doubt for an instant that the preachy malarkey had originated with facilitator. What I couldn't figure out was her motive in targeting me, a total stranger to her.
In any case, I was surprised to learn this week that that same patently fraudulent and long-debunked method is still in use by esteemed professionals.
The news site Inside Higher Ed has covered the story in an article entitled When Research Becomes Rape which I thought pithy and apt. But the commenters at the New York Times Magazine site also deserve a mention for analyzing the case from myriad perspectives. Several thought the punishment Stubblefield faces to be unfair. She is, after all, deranged, delusional and possibly unfit for trial.
Other commenters noted that FC is just one of innumerable snake-oil remedies peddled to a desperate group of people – the parents of children with severe disabilities.
And therein is the true tragedy of this story. I’ll sign my name to that.